Sunday, September 27, 2009

Airborne Museum 'Hartenstein' in Arnhem

Last week the Airborne Museum in Arnhem was officially reopened after having been cosed for extensive renovations and extensions for the past year. it's the sort of place we tend to visit; lots of history and interesting info, plus of course the endless appeal of soldiers and battle stories for the kids. The museum is located in Hartenstein, which before WWII was the rather posh Hotel Hartenstein. It played a key role the famous battle of Arnhem, Operation Market Garden, which was immortalised in history for the exceptional courage of the soldiers involved, the enormous bloodshed that resulted, and for more recent generations in numerous books and films, most notably A Bridge To Far by Cornelius Ryan.
As part of a major advance the Allies landed across Holland and moved North and East into Germany. Many troops were landed behind enemy lines, and about 35,000 men were deployed in the operation. Those unfortunate souls who were sent in to take and defend the bridge in Arnhem were landed about 8 miles away, and were expected to regroup then advance through the town of Oosterbeek to Arnhem. Sadly those 8 miles may as well have been 100. Intense fighting around Oosterbeek saw the British dig in and fight fiercely, bun faced with heavy bombardment by the German artillery the Allies were forced to withdraw. The Hotel Hartenstein was used as the command post and hospital for the Allied troops and was itself the scene of fierce and bloody fighting.
Today it's hard to imagine the bombs landing and men killing each other in the peaceful woods and manicured lawns around this stately old building. Yet just last year more unexploded ordinance was found in the front lawn which had to be blown up and removed for public safety.

During the rebuild a new entrance was built and more display area created, and what a good job they've made of this rebuild. Inside the displys are well thought out, interesting, and presented in Dutch, German, and English. There were crowds of people enjoying a day out in the sun when we called in this afternoon, and the film room was full. We wandered through the elegant rooms, still adorned with flowery murals and delicately plastered ceilings, trying to reconcile the photos and films of the battle around the building with the sun-filled rooms we passed through. In the basement a whole new level has been created where you walk thorough trenches and it really does feel like you're under enemy fire; real jeeps and demolished cars and buildings, the smell of smoke and flicking films on the walls create an eerily realistic effect. It was a bit to realistic for Carl so I whizzed him through this part, but Niels found it fascinating, as did we. If you visit you should allow about an hour to walk through the museum, and the small gift shop at the end is worth a visit. The boys found model airplanes and military Lego (well it looks like Lego but is actually a copy) to take home, and hubby enjoyed poking about among the books and DVDs about the history of the battle and the area.
The museum is well worth a visit, especially if like me you're from abroad and are interested in learning more about the local history. Mind you the excellent displays and great location make this a good place for anyone to visit, especially military history buffs. Entrance costs 8 euros per adult, 5 euros for children.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bird of Prey Show, Silkeborg

There's something about birds of prey that is captivating, and the sport of falconry has always struck me as particularly cool. I can imagine that in medieval times it would have been handy to be able to hunt with a falcon or buzzard, and even now as a sport it has a noble association. Plus it must take a huge amount of dedication to train a bird of prey, and no small amount of courage to let it loose every day and hope like hell that it chooses to return rather than disappear into the wild blue yonder.

When we were in Denmark we passed a sign for a bird of prey show several times on our trips to Silkeborg where we seemed to spend most of our time looking for, or hanging around, a laundromat. Eventually we couldn't resist the temptation and called it to investigate. As luck would have it we had arrived only ten minutes before the daily show - perfect timing!

If you're ever in the Silkeborg area you have to check out this show. The host was a young guy who obviously was passionate about his sport. What looked like brand-new, purpose built facilities housed a wide variety of birds, and his presentation was funny, quirky and really interesting. At different times volunteers could have a go at putting on a falconry glove and feeling what it was like to have a bird on their hand; once Niels had tried it there was no stopping Carl, despite the fact that the owl was almost bigger than he was!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Egeskov Castle - A True Danish Delight

About eight years ago hubby and I visited a beautiful castle south of Odense, on the island of Funen, in Denmark. Niels was only about six weeks old at the time so it was a very different trip to the one we did last month when we headed off to re-visit the place during our holiday. We weren't the only ones to have changed: the grounds around Egeskov Castle have been developed into a well designed park with loads of stuff to keep us and the boys interested.
The castle itself was built around 450 years ago in 1554 and claims to be the best preserved moat castle in all of Europe. Approached over a stone bridge and through an impressive portcullis and gate house, most of the castle is not only open to the public but also still fully furnished with furniture dating back to the first inhabitants. The castle was built in the middle of a lake on a foundation of oak pilings in such quantities that it was said that "it took an oak forest to build it". Lucky there was no Greenpeace back then!
In 1784, Egeskov was sold to Henrik Bille whose descendants have owned the castle ever since. In 1883, Julius Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille moved into Egeskov and, during his time at the castle, it was restored by Helgo Zettervall, a Swedish architect. During this period, the castle was developed into an up-to-date model farm with its own dairy, power station and railway track to Kværndrup, and this formed the economic basis for the large, modern farm that Egeskov is to this day.
Now the fun part. In the 1960s a vintage car/motorbike museum was created which eventually spread to fill several of the huge barns on the estate. There is a Falck museum filled with fire engines and other rescue equipment from throughout history which Niels hasn't stopped talking about since. There are planes hanging from the ceiling, London buses parked in the corners, motorbikes dating from the 1920s gathered from every corner of the earth including one used in a James Bond movie. Once you finally mange to get through that huge collection, you can go through the horse-drawn carriage museum, where we spotted the same type of carriage as the one we rode in when we got married (a Landauer). There's also an agricultural museum, and no less than FIVE mazes on the property to get happily lost in.
A tree-top walk has recently been constructed; not for the faint hearted it wobbles its way between trees, suspended several metres above the ground. And surrounding that is an expansive playground, which has been constructed as lots of small play stations spread through the trees, perfect for playing hide and seek.
If you're in this part of Denmark it's well worth stopping of for a long visit. You can get your entry tickets converted into season passes at no extra charge which means you'll be keen to come back for a second visit to do all the things you didn't get around to the first time, as we did.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Legoland 2 - Still Can't Get Enough!

Our holiday to Denmark (and Legoland) was just too much fun to limit to one posting, so I'm going to start raving about it again.
After all, we are still in serious Lego mode here; the boys have had me putting together all their Lego toys in a non-stop marathon since we arrived home, resulting in me re-discovering many rarely used muscles I had forgotten I actually possessed since the last Lego marathon which I described here. Now that the creidt card bills have rolled in we've also been able to confirm our suspicions - Denmark is a pretty expensive place. It didn't help that it isn't part of the Euro zone, a small detail which had completely escaped me until the day before we were to leave when hubby suggested we go through the Money Drawer to see if we had any Danish Kroners. Any what? You mean we have to change money? Inside Europe?? Bugger.
After rummaging through our money drawer, I happily found a small stock of Kronies to take with us. The Money Drawer used to get a lot more use, but since we all became part of Euro land, the number of envelopes stuffed with currencies have diminished somewhat. There is always a handful of British pounds, since hubby travels back and forth between Aberdeen and Amsterdam every month, and a stack of Swedish Kroner for the annual visits to his sister in Uppsala. Then there is of course a wad of Kiwi dollars, some Norwegian thingies (Kroner again? How unoriginal) for business trips to Stavanger, and a pile of Singaporean dollars which is sadly depleted after my last stopover. Other that that there are what we call the orphan currencies; bits and bobs from Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, the US and a couple of other places we'll probably not get back to for a long time. However I digress - we at least had some Danish Krondongs.
Now I don't know about any of you, but doing currency exchanges in my head is not a natural talent. Euro to New Zealand or Singaporean dollar? No problem, the rate is always about 1:2. But Danish Kring-alings? Those suckers trade at 7.3 to the euro, and who the hell can work that out?? Let's just suffice to say I would suck 2,500 of them out of an ATM every second day and they seemed to disappear at an alarming rate. It didn't help that our new credit cards which we hadn't requested didn't work (thanks ING bank!). Our Postbank was recently taken over by the ING bank and our perfectly working pale blue credit cards were prematurely swapped for hideous bright orange ones which only work with a pin number. Nice move guys, just when we're about to go on holiday, too! Feeling like complete dinosaurs, neither of us knew our pin number, having always just signed for purchases in the past. Hence the 10,000 Koronas-a-week habit we developed on holiday.
On the bright side, having only a vague idea as to how rapidly we were depleting our daily account did help to curb any leanings towards holiday splurges, with the exception of boxes of Lego of course. At the end of the day, the chance to get away from reality for two weeks made it all worth while. And we still have some Kro-magnons left in the Money Drawer.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Vuelta comes to Lochem (this one's for the girls)

Nobody could ever accuse me of being a fan of cycling. A bicycle is a useful tool to get from A to B, and I enjoy doing my shopping on my bike like every other person in Holland in order to avoid traffic congestion, parking problems, and of course to do my little bit for the environment. However watching cycling as a competitive sport has always seemed about as interesting as watching snooker, chess, or golf on the TV; a complete waste of time.
Once I moved to Holland of course I found I was in the minority. They love their cycling over here, and they are good at it too. From the regular outdoor cycling races to the confusing, bizarre and seemingly no-rules sport of indoor sprinting, the Dutch will glue themselves to their TVs to cheer on their favourite cyclist, although to be honest they all look the same to me in their tight little body suits, silly pointed helmets and funny shoes. Plus every time a winner raises his arms in triumph I have to bite my tongue and resist the urge to shout "two hands, hold on with two hands!!!" at the TV as my mothering instinct kicks in amid memories of Niels and Carl face-planting off their bikes.
This week the country is agog at the Vuelta, a cycling race which starts in Spain and ends up travelling through Holland. Now I just know someone is going to correct me here, but frankly I just spent 15 minutes trying to find out why and where and for how long this is all about on the Internet but as a child of the Now Generation, if I can't find what I need on line in quarter of an hour I give up. Suffice to say a large crowd of guys would be whizzing past the town, and the kids school had decided to turn out in support to watch. After Carl had asked me "are you coming Mum? Are you gonna come and watch? Are you? Are you? Are you gonna come too?" about fifty times while bouncing manically on his toes I thought it best to mosey along if only to stop him throwing himself under the first bike in a fit of excitement . Stifling a yawn and feigning enthusiasm I walked with other Mums and Dads and about 100 incredibly noisy kids to stand behind hastily erected barriers on the main road.
And actually it was fun. Every two minutes a police motorbike would zoom pass, greeted by a deafening chorus of cheers and totally uncoordinated Indian waves from the kids. Then Spanish police started cruising by, cooler by a factor of ten with their confident smiles and slow waves. The kids were about ready to explode when the official race motorbikes started cruising by, tooting their horns and returning the waving enthusiastically. By the time the race cars, laden with spare bikes and wheels and sprouting bunches of antennae cruised past Carl had reached the point where his adrenalin was just about used up and his little face was squeezed against the metal railings, the effort of all that waving and screaming just all too much. Pushing away thoughts of having to call the fire brigade to cut his head loose should he actually manage to squeeze it through, I focused on the action long enough to see three cyclists whizz past so quickly they were a blur of orange of blue. Was that it?? No, just the leaders.
Thankfully not five minutes later the main bunch arrived, pedalling hard but steadily, eyes focused unwaveringly on the road ahead, silent in their intense concentration. And Oh.My.God. Suddenly I got it. The realisation of why this sport is so popular - at least amongst women - suddenly blossomed in my brain like an ink drop in water. These guys are hot. Never mind your helicopter shots of crowded bikes jockeying for position; up close and within touching distance those cyclists are pure tanned muscle from their chiseled calves to their razor sharp pecs, with buns so hard they look carved from granite. Thighs that could crack walnuts pump rhythmically while sculptured forearms grasp the hand grips . They were past in a few seconds but in the frenzied cheering that followed I noticed I was not the only Mum suddenly joining in the Indian wave, and we all shared a secret little smile on the walk back to school.